Newborn Suckling Reflex: What You Need To Know

If you have a baby, you’ve certainly seen his suckling reflex. We explain everything you need to know about this primitive sense that all humans possess.
The suckling reflex of a newborn: what you need to know

The suckling reflex of a newborn baby is one of the most important skills early in life as it allows him to suck from the mother’s breast or from a bottle. It is included in the innate reflexes, which are physiological reactions in the psychomotor development of children.

Up to six months, babies should only be fed breastmilk or formula feed, since babies under this age cannot hold their heads upright or sit in a high chair. Therefore, giving them other food could create a choking hazard.

In addition, infants still have an active squeeze reflex by the time they are six months old, which is to excrete non-liquid food by sticking out the tongue.

Newborns need the suckling reflex for at least two reasons. Thanks to it, they guarantee themselves proper fluid feeding and at the same time benefit from mother’s milk. Here we will tell you everything you need to know about this infant reflex.

What is the suckling reflex of a newborn baby?

The suckling reflex is instinctive and vital and allows your baby to eat.

It is an instinctive reflex that occurs only seconds after birth to ensure your baby’s survival. Suckling requires the integration of sensory and motor activities to ensure a sufficient amount of food and its proper absorption.

In fact, Elisabeth Inostroza assures in her work that this reflex begins in the intrauterine life. Its development begins at week 17 and continues throughout pregnancy until week 37, when it finishes shaping.

The choke cycle

The suckling cycle is where the baby expresses milk, his lips curled outwards. So arranged, together with the cheeks, they form a seal that prevents leakage.

Then comes the swallowing reflex, which consists in passing the food through the throat and esophagus. Each suckling reflex is accompanied by a swallow reflex, and this is a basic step that your baby needs to coordinate.

Throughout this process, the baby is also breathing continuously, pausing for only 0.5 seconds to allow the bolus to pass through the throat.

Types of suckling in a newborn

Inostrosis goes on to say that there are three types of sucking associated with the degrees of maturity of this reflex. An immature suckling consists of 3 or 5 strokes followed by a pause for the baby to breathe as he is unable to suck and breathe at the same time. There is not enough coordination yet.

The intermediate rate of suction is 6 to 10 strokes followed by apnea in which there is no complete coordination of the suckling cycle. Mature suckling, on the other hand, has 10 to 30 strokes with little rest breaks, but there is good coordination between sucking, swallowing and breathing.

In addition, nutritional and non-nutritional sucking can be distinguished . A nutrient is one that is activated when the mouth contacts the mother’s breast or bottle and is used for feeding. On the other hand, non-nourishing occurs when the baby’s mouth comes into contact with something else and the suckling reflex is activated.

How to stimulate the suckling reflex?

The suckling reflex is easily stimulated by placing the mother’s breast in the baby’s mouth, although orofacial exercises can also be performed . This situation applies to children with oral dysfunctions that do not allow the proper suckling process.

These exercises involve massaging the child’s palate by pressing the gums over the tongue and making finger extension and retraction movements. It should be a clean finger and you must avoid reaching to the bottom of your tongue to avoid gagging.

What if there is no suckling reflex in the newborn?

If your baby does not have a suckling reflex, please consult your doctor.

When children do not have this reflex, it means that they have some kind of anomaly regarding their development. Most often it is a neurological change at the level of the spinal cord. In such cases, the mother should seek professional help. If a baby is not eating as it should, changes in its development may occur.

Premature babies or babies with physical abnormalities often suffer from a lack of this reflex. Most disorders usually occur at the jaw and tongue levels.

Oral disorders, where the tongue is attached to the floor of the mouth, can minimize the sucking reflex. This condition is called the shortened sublingual frenulum. Other problems such as a cleft palate, a tongue that is too large to settle in the mouth, and a retracted lower jaw also make it difficult to suck.

How is the suckling reflex of the baby related to the mother’s milk production?

The suckling reflex triggers a signal that is sent to the mother’s brain to produce prolactin, a hormone that in turn triggers the production of breast milk. This ensures that milk is still produced after the first breastfeeding of the baby by the mother.

Although it is also important that the breast is regularly emptied and filled to keep your milk production going smoothly and without disruptions.

Milk is produced in the mammary glands of each breast. These glands have vesicles, empty spaces that fill with milk during this process. In turn, the walls of these follicles contain lactocytes, cells capable of producing and synthesizing milk.

In response to your baby’s suckling, nerves in the breasts stimulate lactocytes to produce milk. When suckling, the bubbles containing the breast milk are compressed and the milk passes into the tubules and empties through the nipple through which the baby is fed.

The toddler not only sucks from hunger, but also to feel safe and at ease. So when he cries and is handed a pacifier, finger or breast and he receives it, he stops crying. You can also see him doing the sucking gesture while sleeping.

Sucking reflex – a natural and innate response

The suckling reflex is the natural and innate response of every newborn baby. It is also a necessary act at the beginning of a child’s existence, which provides him with a sense of satisfaction – both hunger, closeness and the need for security. So if you notice your baby is having difficulty sucking, see a breastfeeding specialist.

Immature suckling does not necessarily mean the end of breastfeeding. Over time, thanks to appropriate efforts and professional help, you will be able to breastfeed your baby.

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